Sunday, September 4, 2011

WRITER'S BLOG: On Earth in U.S. as in Haiti, Repair Roads, Build Schools?

Yesterday's New York Times (p. B3) heralds President Obama's speech upcoming this Thursday.  
He'll address jobs - or rather, the lack thereof.

Now don't get me wrong, folks - I have and will vote for Pres. Obama and hope you'll all join together with me and enough constituents to send the Tea Party packing...And I do think that, at least in part, "putting people to work repairing roads, bridges and schools" a la WPA and Haiti'a Cash For Work program ain't a bad idea at all.

Just one question: Build schools, yet teachers are being laid off?  Build schools, and cram 35+ students in middle school and high school classes?

Why not train, re-train, hire and re-hire teachers to teach?  Gosh, just imagine:  jobs are going to be pouring cement and asphalt and raising roof beams - and unemployed teachers will be doing the road work! This is a solution?
Well, it has precedent. The "American plan" has precedent in Haiti.  Schools are being rebuilt.  Also roads and bridges.  Maybe even a sewage system...

Now, back in June, the Digicel Foundation was going to train teachers, subsidize teacher salaries AND build well-lit schools and with desks and places for books.  Even latrines, too.  

As of mid-July, however, that has changed.  The CEO, Denis O'Brien, who has already reconstructed the iconic Iron Market in Haiti's capital Port-Au-Prince, met with Pres. Martelly.  After that meeting, the bit about teacher training and salaries was off the table.  Digicel Foundation is still (as of this writing) committed to rebuilding schools - and thus, contractors all over the capital are very busy there.  None are (yet) available to make the trek to any remote mountain zones...such as Mon Bouton above the plain of Leogane - but, Digicel is working on it, hoping to find one contractor who will be free of the easier and lucrative task of rebuilding city schools, and who might be willing to trek up 4000 feet, schlepping materials all the way.

Port au Prince (or "Haiti" as it is often mistakenly called) will have new, sturdy, well-lit, earthquake-resistant schools.  And roads so students can get to them.

But no teacher training.  And no pay for teachers!  
In Haiti, as in the U.S., the jobs will require the literati and teachers to hit the road and build the road, build and repair the classrooms where they will no longer teach.

Why do I find myself mulling over China, under Mao, when 100 Flowers bloomed...?  And that "Great Leap Forward,"  大躍進 -Dà yuè jìn of the PRC...No, not at all the same thing - I mean, a public works program is hardly a socialist, Marxist movement...Right?
But repairing schools when there are fewer trained teachers to staff them seems odd in the case of Haiti and not very smart in the U.S., where we don't have the same, er, excuses as an impoverished Caribbean nation.
At least not yet.

Now, I certainly have nada against manual labor.  
Some of my best friends work the land, lay brick and clean houses. But when there are teachers laid off, and classrooms over-crowded, and teachers over-worked --- does it make sense to think more of stimulus funds going into, say "Teach for America," or "Be a  Teacher's Aide" in America...or Haiti?

How about invite our educated (and so frequently "over-educated" or "over-qualified") unemployed and pay them to assist teachers in classrooms -  here, and in Haiti?

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